Debt Ceiling: Wrong Kind of Disarmament Agreement

US national debt

Well, here we are: The final scenes of Debt Ceiling Theater 2023. After endless rounds of “tense negotiations,” punctuated by smack talk between the big players and weird Hail Mary proposals from the cheap seats,  US president Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announced a deal over Memorial Day Weekend.

Congress still has to pass the thing, of course, but chances are they’ll pass, and Biden will sign, SOMETHING before Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen runs out of couch cushions to rifle through for spare change to keep the government running.

Let’s have a look at the deal’s features. The envelope, please?

First, the deal pushes the NEXT debt ceiling dust-up off until January 2025. The standard phrasing for that is “kicking the can down the road,” but I think we need a different metaphor here. This is a political disarmament deal. Both major parties are agreeing that the “national debt” won’t be an issue in the 2024 presidential election. How convenient.

Second, non-“defense” discretionary spending will remain at current levels through 2024 and rise by 1% in 2025. Which, without increases in tax revenue, means that the annual deficit and overall debt will continue to rise (especially as the interest payments on EXISTING debt increase).

And third, “defense” spending will rise by 3.3%, in line with Biden’s budget request.

If you’re not serious about cutting spending, you’re not serious about reducing the deficit or paying down the government’s debt.

And if you’re not serious about cutting “defense” spending — by far the single largest discretionary item in the federal budget — you’re not serious about cutting spending.

Instead of political disarmament deals to ensure nobody gets embarrassed on the 2024 campaign trail, Congress and the President should make a REAL disarmament deal that cuts US military spending by an absolute minimum of 10% per year for the next five years.

If everything else was left alone, applying that 10% annual “defense” cut to debt PRINCIPLE would simultaneously reduce existing funding needs for debt SERVICE, while putting more people and more money back into the productive economy.

Yes, the Department of Defense would remain a bloated money pit even after a 50% total cut — leaving the US in still in first place among worldwide military spenders by far. The eventual reduction should be more along the lines of 90% if actual “national defense” is the metric we want to measure by.

But they’ve got to start somewhere, right?

Or, more likely, finish somewhere: In default.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Pre-Election Advice: Try Looking at Yourself the Way Politicians Do

Photo by Owen Yancher. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.
Photo by Owen Yancher. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

The usual way of thinking about politicians is: What do we think of them? Do we like the way they look? Do we like the way they sound? Are they on our side of this or that big divide? Do their policy proposals make sense? Do we … like them?

As the next presidential election approaches (is it just me or is the next presidential election ALWAYS approaching?) and candidates for the major party nominations warm up in the bullpen — testing out their various curveballs and sliders in preparation for the Big Game — I suggest trying to look at them from the other direction. What do those politicians think about us, and what do their attitudes toward us tell us about them?

I should probably start with the bottom line: For most politicians, voters are a means to an end. Our primary purpose in life, so far as they’re concerned, is to provide them with lifetime paychecks and unlimited power, whipped cream and cherry on top, thank you very much.

That’s just the nature of our system: Its centralization of authority attracts people who desperately want that authority and will do whatever’s necessary to get it. Narcissists. Sociopaths. Busybodies. Others need not apply; the competition is rigged to reward the obsessively power-hungry.

We can’t do much about that — the whole electoral field looks pretty much the same on that particular metric — but there are other characteristics we can check for.

When Donald Trump tells you he has a plan to end a war but won’t share that plan with you, he’s telling you he thinks you’re extraordinarily gullible, and also that you’re too young to remember the 1968 presidential election, when Richard Nixon pulled the same “secret plan” con vis a vis Vietnam.

When Joe Biden tells you that he’s the candidate of individual freedom, he’s telling you he thinks you suffer from some sort of severe memory impediment. Since you can’t remember his 30-odd years in the Senate, his eight years as vice-president, or his first term as president, he probably assumes he’ll need to remind you to vote two or three times on Election Day alone.

When Ron DeSantis centers his campaign pitch around “the woke mind virus,” he’s telling you that he’s a bizarro whackadoodle crank, or that he thinks you’re a bizarro whackadoodle crank and wants to appeal to your bizarro whackadoodle crankiness, or, likely, both.

When Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. tells you that opposing censorship is one of his flagship issues, he’s just riffing on Biden’s memory loss assumption: He assumes you won’t remember his long record of calling for the imprisonment of those who “deny” the correctness of his opinions on climate change, disagree with him on the efficacy and side effects of vaccines, etc.

And so on, and so forth. If you’re thinking that most politicians don’t hold you in very high esteem, you’re right. They mostly regard you as some combination of stupid, gullible, and crazy. If you vote for them,  they’re probably right.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


If the Constitution Doesn’t Matter, Why Keep Pretending Otherwise?

US Constitution Preamble

“I’m looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority,” US president Joe Biden told reporters on May 21. “I think we have the authority.”

The “authority” he speaks of is the power to borrow money on the credit of the United States, which the US Constitution reserves exclusively to Congress.  “Invoking” the 14th Amendment wouldn’t change that. There are precisely two ways in which he could exercise such power.

The first would be a constitutional amendment creating such a power for him. That would require approval of 2/3 of both houses of Congress and ratification by 3/4 of the states. Unlikely, especially on a short timeline.

The second would be ignoring the Constitution, doing whatever he feels like doing, and daring Congress to challenge him on the matter.

Which, especially since World War 2, is pretty much business as usual.

Truman went to war with North Korea. Johnson went to war with North Vietnam. Bush went to war with Iraq and Afghanistan. Not to mention a great many smaller conflicts, without a single congressional declaration of war, and without a single impeachment proceeding for going to war without that required congressional declaration.

A number of presidents have negotiated and implemented international agreements without the required Senate ratification, via the simple subterfuge of not calling them what they were: Treaties. Recent examples include Barack Obama’s “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action” (aka the “Iran nuclear deal”) and Donald Trump’s “Agreement for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan.”

The prerogatives of the imperial presidency go beyond foreign policy, of course.  Take, for example, Trump’s 2019 theft of funds appropriated for “defense” by Congress to build his “border wall” (after Congress had expressly denied him funding for that project multiple times). Congress’s response? A resolution “rebuking” him.

The Constitution is meaningless if it’s toothless — if there’s neither any reversal of, nor any penalty for,  actions which violate it. That’s as true at the level of the presidency as at the level of a local beat cop conducting a search without the constitutionally required warrant.

As 19th-century anarchist Lysander Spooner wrote, “whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain — that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”

Perhaps we should  stop pretending, against all available evidence, that it DOES exist.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter:@thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.